Feature Creep

Feature creep is a phrase often used in the tech world to describe a product that, as it slowly adds feature after feature, becomes a bloated and less useful version of its previous, simpler self. It’s a malady that often afflicts products in and outside of the digital world.

It can happen to people, too.

The other day, I found myself in a conversation in which I was dismissing the opposing perspective almost as soon as my brain registered it. These were valid arguments that directly conflicted with my point of view- typically, the stimulus for growth.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

~ Aristotle

This was not the sign of an educated mind.

Once I noticed my behavior, I stopped the conversation and began to investigate. When did I reach this point? How did I reach this point? I constantly praise the ability to see things from a different perspective, so why was I doing the exact opposite?

Feature creep.

Those of us who pride ourselves on personal growth- who seek out new ways of thinking, who strive to educate ourselves, monitor our habits in order to change them- run a dangerous risk of succumbing to feature creep.

My mode of thinking was, “I am the one who reads a lot, who works on bettering myself every day. I am the only one whose opinion matters, because I am the ‘enlightened one.’

I wasn’t thinking this out loud, of course, or even consciously. It only became clear when I put myself under a microscope... but I was thinking it. Every day, I add a new feature to myself: I read more articles, more classic fiction. I examine my modes of behavior, then modify them. I seek out the thoughts and opinions of those smarter than me, in order to claim their wisdom as my own. As I added feature after feature, I momentarily became the thing that I loathed.

I had become a product too complicated to remember my original purpose: to be better. I was certainly not being ‘better’ by embracing the sort of close-mindedness that I so often rail against.

I listened to the first episode of The Partially Examined Life the other day. In it, the trial of Socrates is being discussed, in which Socrates famously says that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” In dissecting that sentence, a thought arose among the podcasters: how many times can you revisit something? Once you’ve reflected on something to determine your stance on a subject, isn’t that it? Won’t you run out of things to ponder unless a particular situation comes up?

I thought of this after I realized what a schmuck I’d been. A supposition is never complete. You must revisit it every now and again, not only because your opinion at forty years old might differ from that of your thirty-year-old self, but because we run the risk of feature creep if our stances go unexamined for too long.

It can happen to your personal self, or even your professional self. Writers, designers, lawyers, managers: how often have you dismissed the opinions of your subordinates, simply because they’re your subordinates, or because they’re less experienced? Pay attention to your conversations. If you find yourself discarding input as soon as it comes in, you’ve come down with a serious case of feature creep.

We are imperfect beings, subject to lapses. Only when we realize that the examination must be ongoing can we personally realize the potential of the most important phrase ever to grace our ears:

The unexamined life is not worth living.

~ Socrates

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